Fisher v. University of Texas
February 21, 2012
Case #: 11-345
631 F.3d 213 (5th Cir. 2011)
Full Text Opinion: http://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/opinions/pub/09/09-50822-CV0.wpd.pdf
Constitutional Law: Whether including race as a factor in determining undergraduate admissions was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
In 1997, the Texas Legislature passed the Top Ten Percent Law, which grants high school seniors in the top ten percent of their classes automatic admission to any Texas state university. Although facially neutral, the purpose of the law was to increase racial diversity in the state university system. In 2004, the University of Texas at Austin (“UT”) altered its policy to include race as one factor when making undergraduate admissions decisions. Petitioners, who were white, applied for and were denied admission to the UT undergraduate class entering in the Fall 2008. They filed suit in district court, claiming that the admission policy at UT discriminated against them based on race, in violation of their Fourteenth Amendment equal protection rights as well as other federal civil rights statutes. Appellants sought damages as well as injunctive and declaratory relief. The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas granted summary judgment to respondent.
On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed, holding that respondent’s admission policy did not improperly balance race, and was therefore not unconstitutional. The court explained that the change in UT’s admission policy was modeled after the approved program in Grutter v. Bolinger, 599 U.S. 306 (2003), in which the Court, justifying the use of race in university admissions, held that seeking a diverse student body was a compelling state interest. In addition, the court held that because the Top Ten Percent Law alone did not allow respondent to achieve its diversity interests that the admission system was not unconstitutional. The Court of Appeals denied rehearing en banc, and the Supreme Court granted certiorari.
On appeal, petitioners argue that Grutter requires respondent to demonstrate that its use of race in admissions decisions passes strict scrutiny—that it is "necessary to further a compelling government interest” and that “the means chosen to accomplish the government's asserted purpose are specifically and narrowly framed to accomplish that purpose”—and that respondent's failure to so demonstrate makes its use of race in denying admission to petitioners unconstitutional.